Saturday, July 28, 2007

Philippines operations halted!

UPDATES with military operations suspended ///MANILA, July 27, 2007 (AFP) - The Philippines has suspended planned military operations against Muslim separatists blamed for beheading marines after Japan and Canada threatened to pull out of vital aid projects, officials said Friday.

The World Bank, Japan and Canada had expressed concerns over the escalating tensions on Basilan island, where troops have been deployed to hunt down Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members blamed for killing 14 marines there earlier this month.

Ten of the slain soldiers were beheaded as they searched for a kidnapped Italian Roman Catholic priest, since freed unharmed on the neighbouring southern island of Mindanao.

But military chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon said there would be no offensive until an investigation into who was responsible was complete.

He said police had been given until Monday to secure arrest warrants for the suspects.

Esperon said military reinforcements sent to Basilan for the operations would instead be redeployed "to protect our vital facilities and infrastructure" in the south.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been observing a three-year truce while negotiating a peace agreement with Manila.

This has allowed wealthy nations including Japan and Canada and multilateral agencies like the World Bank to implement development projects in the south, where some of the poorest Filipino families live.

Canadian ambassador Peter Sutherland had earlier said in a letter to Manila's peace negotiating panel: "We would be disappointed if security concerns arising from a spillover of military operations in Basilan to other areas in Mindanao constrained us to temporarily curtail our aid operations."

World Bank Mindanao coordinator Mary Judd also called for restraint, warning that "an escalation would threaten the chances of achieving a peaceful resolution to this crisis, or much worse, totally derail the ongoing peace process."

The MILF has said its forces attacked the Marines because they had strayed into its territory, but has denied its forces beheaded the soldiers.

The rebels rejected a military demand to turn over those behind the attack.


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